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Mother Teresa’s orphanages not de-recognized, but victim of own religious illiberalism

Some media reports have been emerging in the past few days which are in the same vein as “Christians under attack” bogey raised a few months back. This time, the reports suggest: Central government may de-recognise Mother Teresa’s orphanage homes. These reports have appeared in media outlets such as  The Week and India.com. So is this true? Is the Modi Government following in the footsteps of RSS chief Bhagwat, who had remarked that “conversion was Mother Teresa’s main goal”?

First let us understand the new developments which have brought the Government and Missionaries of Charity (MoC) at loggerheads.

As per this Washington Post report titled Mother Teresa’s orphanages end adoptions because of new liberal rules in India” this stir has been caused because the Central Government has moved to overhaul India’s failed adoption policy. A look at the data presented by Union minister of Women & Child development, Maneka Gandhi, shows the abysmal failure of the current policy.

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As is evident, the number of children being adopted in India is steadily falling in last 4 years. For those who do not like data, Washington Post has an anecdote:

When Shreya Roy applied to adopt an orphan in New Delhi in 2012, she was told that the wait could be at least three years — if she was lucky.“We called about 25 children’s adoption homes in the city. They kept saying, ‘There are no babies, there are no babies,’ ” said Roy, a 35-year-old public relations professional. “It just did not make sense. Just look around — there are so many abandoned and poor babies.”

This lethargic pace of the adoption process, is coupled with a “thriving illegal market that funnels abandoned infants from hospitals directly to couples”, says Washington Post.

To tackle this problem, Maneka Gandhi has made multiple efforts. In July last year, she wrote 700 letters to to chief justices of high courts and district judges all across the country, requesting them to expedite the adoption cases pending with them or received by them. She followed this up with efforts to remove red-tape and simplify adoption rules.

And the new rules did see the light of day. In August, the Ministry notified the revised ‘Guidelines Governing Adoption of Children 2015’ formulated after almost a year-long stakeholders’ consultation process. “The revised guidelines coupled with the new IT enabled adoption system – CARINGS, provide a transparent process of adoption under which all the child care institutions of the country have been brought into an integrated system” says the PIB press release.

The main bone of contention between MoC and the Government is a part of the policy which allows single parents to adopt children. This is not a new rule per se, and existed since 2011 at least, but it did not apply to MoC. The Missionaries previously had the freedom to accept or reject prospective parents at will. Now the government has required orphanages to submit records of children to a central authority ( Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA)) that maintains a database. Prospective parents will now register with the authority, whose automated system will match them with children.

This means children from any orphanage, including MoC, can potentially be matched with single parents anywhere in the country. And this is where the problem arises. Sister Amala from a New Delhi orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity says:

“The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us, may be they are for secular people as the minister says. But we are concerned about children and their future. What if the single parent who we give our baby turns out to be gay or lesbian. What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules allow only married couples to adopt,”

Incidentally, a ministry official has said that this issue came to the fore when they received complaints from two prospective single parents from Assam and Bihar. “The Missionaries of Charity refused to give them children for adoption on the grounds that they were single,” said the official.

Another issue with which MoC claims to have a problem with is a new rule which provides for allowing prospective parents to choose from among six babies. Sister Amala has said on this aspect:

“Mother’s idea was adoption to counter abortion. When a woman gives birth to a baby, is she allowed a choice? She gets what God gifts her.”

Selection of children seems to be a standard practice in the United Kingdom though. In fact David Cameron, who had once claimed he was “evangelical about Christian faith”, unveiled the changed measures in 2012, which allowed parents to choose the child they would like to adopt.

And it is for these religious reasons that the Missionaries of Charity, “have voluntarily given up” their recognized status to run adoption centers. Yes, “voluntarily” and not “de-recognized by Modi Goverment”. This stand of MoC is clear from the statement of MoC dated 10th October 2015:

It was two months ago that the Missionaries of Charity decided to discontinue all our adoption work in India. We have voluntarily given up our recognized status to run adoption centers. If we were to continue the work set up by Mother Teresa, complying with all the provisions would have been difficult for us.

So this blatant disinformation campaign run by certain sections of the press stands clearly exposed. Perhaps there is “confusion” among the press because it is hard for it to reconcile and report that a Modi led Government has brought in a “liberal” (as stated by Washington Post) adoption policy, and which is being opposed by the “secular” Missionaries of Charity, on religious grounds.

The Ministry on its part, has made its stand clear via a press release:

The Ministry recognizes the good work done by organizations like Missionaries of Charity. However, it is reiterated that the new guidelines, prepared after an elaborate consultation process, have to be followed by all child care institutions involved in the process of adoption.

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